Ambassador Blog: Study Abroad

By Rosie Ding, George Tyler Heffley & Gabriel Griswold

Thornton Student Ambassadors Rosie Ding, George Tyler Heffley, and Gabriel Griswold reflect on some of their experiences studying abroad.

USC Thornton offers dynamic overseas programs designed to expand upon and enhance Thornton students’ curriculum. Whether you want to study abroad for a few days, weeks, or a full semester, USC Thornton has programs to help you achieve your goals. 

Rosie Ding (Choral Music | Class of 2024) Paris, France Maymester

A music student outside a museum in Paris.
Rosie Ding (in mid-leap) outside the Panthéon in Paris. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Ding)

I went to Paris, France for three weeks during the summer of 2023 for a collaborative Maymester between the Thornton School of Music and the Kaufman School of Dance. Our class got to experience the city through the lens of salon culture and performing arts by visiting historical sites, attending productions and engaging in collaborations across art forms.

Some of my favorite moments include picnicking by the Seine, buying last-minute tickets for the Philharmonie de Paris and touring Versailles. I still very deeply cherish the memories and friendships that I’ve made with other music majors, with Kaufman BFAs and with music and dance minors. Upon coming back, I’ve been much more spontaneous, collaborative and culturally conscious with my approach to art and life.

If you’re thinking of studying abroad – please do it! If it’s not possible for you during the school year, a Maymester is the perfect opportunity to go out into the world, try new things and build strong bonds. Experiences and relationships are really everything in the performing arts industry. 

George Tyler Heffley (Music Industry and Jazz Studies: Guitar | Class of 2024) London, UK Maymester

One of the greatest memories from my time at USC, and really of my life, was when I had the opportunity to study abroad in London. I was part of the London Maymester, in the summer of 2022 and 2023. During these trips, we were working as performers, songwriters, and in various industry roles. We also had the opportunity to work with other music students from the London music school called ICMP, fashion and photography students from University of Arts London, and the opportunity to record our original music at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.

With both trips, we were separated into different bands, each one having specific music industry professionals working with us as managers, advancing our shows, promotion and marketing, and other administrative tasks. For the bands, we were focusing on scheduling rehearsals, writing and arranging the music that we were going to perform, and always putting on shows. With the help of our industry teams, we put together the image and brand that we wanted to present for ourselves and worked with the photography and fashion students to organize a successful photoshoot. 

A group of music students smile together in a recording studio.
George Tyler Heffley (far right-side standing) with his classmates, peers and USC Thornton Studio Guitar program instructors Richard Smith and Tim Kobza (far left) during a recording session at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. (Photo courtesy of George Tyler Heffley)

Undoubtedly, the greatest highlights from these trips were when we had the opportunity to record music at Abbey Road Studios. At that studio, we were recording in room two, which is the same space that the Beatles and Pink Floyd recorded in. This studio is historic with all the recording and production that it has offered to the industry, thus adding another reason as to why I was in such awe of the experience. I was honored to have had the chance to add my sound to those legendary walls and I look forward to going back there to do it again.

A huge takeaway from these trips was really experiencing how the music business operates in other parts of the world. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and all of my early experiences with the entertainment industry comes from this town.  From what I’ve seen in London, everyone seemed to appreciate music in a different way. The audience at all our shows were always loud and seemed to have been having a good time. Also, a lot of the venues and other establishments tend to close early, so we were always working early and making sure that the shows were on time. London is very involved in the industry and it’s cool to see the overlap between here and Los Angeles. 

A music student standing outside of Abbey Road Studios in London.
George Tyler Heffley outside Abbey Road Studios. (Photo courtesy of George Tyler Heffley)

Some advice I would give to students who want to study abroad is to do the best you can to combat jet lag and definitely do some research on the place that you’re going to visit. It’s incredibly respectful to understand another culture as best you can. Lastly, try to experience as much as you can wherever you are. There’s so much to gain from talking to people, going to museums, seeing shows and live music, and really being present in the moment.

London was definitely an amazing trip. From taking the tube (or the “chube”), double-decker buses, playing music, and recording at Abbey Road Studios, I’ve had life-changing experiences and friendships that I’m so grateful for. I made friends in London that I still talk to and we have our couches available for each other to crash on if we find ourselves on the other side of the big pond. I encourage everyone to study abroad! Eat good food, have some laughs, make new friends, and have amazing experiences!

Gabriel Griswold (Composition | Class of 2024) Thornton Exchange Program with the Sibelius Academy 

For the first semester of my junior year, I studied abroad at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki Finland. I could never compress an entire semester of joy into only a few paragraphs, but my experience in Helsinki provided me with endless inspiration, motivation, and opportunity. One of my favorite parts of my experience in Helsinki was participating in the electroacoustic music courses. I was given access to phenomenal recording and production studios and was actively encouraged by every single one of my professors to integrate it into my classical composition practice. I had mostly pursued concert music up to that point, but my teachers, friends, and colleagues were so supportive of trying new things, and coming up with new ways to create the sounds I was looking for. 

I also had the chance to participate in composition and orchestration forums. In those classes every person was able to share music that they were working on. I encountered such unique compositional styles and was exposed to so much Finnish music, as well as Finnish language, which I would never have found had I not studied there. The members of the composition department were so welcoming and encouraging that I was able to, quite regularly, engage in discourse around my own music and utilize the community I was a part of to learn more about how I was growing as a composer. It felt like an extremely active group full of people deeply engaged with and involved in the creation of music.

The outdoor campus of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.
Campus of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griswold)
The interior of a modern recording studio.
Gabriel in the recording studio of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griswold)

I also felt profoundly attached, not only to the community at the Academy, but truly every individual I encountered in Finland. Every person, every instrumentalist, and every teacher was open to getting lunch, talking music, or just telling you the best place in the city to visit. Going from such a large town like LA to a country which has a population which is not even half of LA was a profound change. I couldn’t have felt more supported by the friends I made and within only a few days of studying at Sibelius I felt right at home. The only word in English which finds its roots in Finnish is sauna and I can tell you from first-hand experience that visiting the Finnish saunas with your friends is like nothing else! 

I was so lucky to be able to pursue studying at Sibelius and I couldn’t have done it without all of the prep work and planning that my wonderful advisors at USC helped me with. USC provides so many opportunities to study abroad and with early planning and communication it’s all possible! I would encourage every student who is thinking about attending USC to discover what opportunities, short-term or long-term, Thornton can give you. Studying at the Sibelius Academy was far and above the highlight of my time at USC and I apply the things I learned every single day.

TAGS: Choral and Sacred Music, Composition, Jazz Studies, Music Industry, Studio Guitar,

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